Sunday, April 10, 2005

STARS AND STRIPES

The consultant who had run a Tupperware party for her some years ago recently contacted my friend Jodi. Being the lovely lady that she is, Jodi undertook to host another party. She called me and said that she was doing this, and that as the stairs in her home make it really difficult for me to hang out there, how about we share hosting the party and have it at my house?

I though this was a great idea and felt that having a Tupperware party was one of those things that every self-respecting woman should do at some stage of her life. It was one thing I had not done and as my 45th birthday was approaching, I thought this was something that was long overdue. It was interesting to me that everyone seemed surprised that we had known about Tupperware in South Africa. Not only did we know about Tupperware in South Africa, as a result of our knowledge of it, and exposure to it, every single piece of plastic in our kitchen is referred to as Tupperware, even if it is clearly a Glad or Ziploc container!

Jodi and I proceeded to send our invitations out and we were really looking forward to the day. My other lovely friend, Alyson, responded to the invitation with this note in my mail box:

“Dear Dawn,
It is my firm belief that once you have a Tupperware Party, you automatically become a true dyed-in-the-wool American. This great American institution should allow you to immediately qualify for citizenship – no questions asked!”

Around the same time as the Tupperware party, we received notification through the mail that the time has come for us to present ourselves for fingerprinting. This brings us up to almost crossing the finishing line in the process of completing our immigration. The next step is physically receiving our Green Cards.

The documentation informed us that we were to report to the Federal Building in Newark at 9am. Other people who have been through this process advised us to be there at least an hour ahead of our scheduled appointment. We left the house at 7am all feeling really excited. It is not often that we get to hang out with either one, let alone both the teenagers (sorry Alex, I know you are actually 20!), so this was starting to feel like a family outing, more than a serious errand!

We were fortunate enough to get a parking right outside the building. On excursions like these, I make use of a wheelchair because it just speeds up the process and I don’t end up feeling physically exhausted. We joined the line, already, at this early hour of the morning, extending out the building. It was freezing. I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps the department could make some kind of alternative arrangement during the winter months. The building is undergoing renovations so maybe it would have been possible to erect some kind of covered section to keep the wind out. The line did however move fairly quickly, and our next stop was in the foyer of the building. Once inside, I noticed a sign on the wall, printed on a letter size piece of paper, that said, “If you need wheelchair access, go to the next entrance for the elevator.” Hmmmm, perhaps this sign might have been more effective if posted at the entrance to THIS building? In the very cramped space, we started turning around and working our way back out against the flow of people coming into the building and those huddling up in the cold along the sidewalk.

We went to the next building and approached the reception desk. There were in fact two elevators, the doors to one of which were open but entrance was prohibited. Daniel went up to the man at the desk and the following conversation took place.

I need to insert a coding system here first:

This color and size print indicates a slightly raised tone of voice.
This color and size indicates a tone of voice that gets you thinking you might end up as a statistic in the news tonight.
This color and tone convinces you that you need to turn around, and get the fuck right out of this clearly unstable individual’s way.

Ok, here goes ….

“Hi, we are here for fingerprints,” says Daniel.

The elevator is not working,” says the guy at the desk.

“My wife is in a wheelchair so she needs to use the elevator.”

The elevator is not working.”

“Why are you yelling at me?”

I keep telling you over and over that the elevator is not working.”

“I hear you, but what about the other one?”

It doesn’t go to that floor.”

“Ok, thank you.”

I at this point am getting ready to reach out to grab David whom I instinctively feel is about to leap over the counter and cause the screamer some serious bodily harm. Before that happens though, Daniel whisks me off and we leave the building.

We made our way back past the people in the line and Daniel parked me in the lobby. He and David followed the line up three flights of stairs and managed to get someone to attend to them without really pissing anyone from the line off by jumping to the front like that.

They ran back down the stairs and started whisking me off back to the dreaded screamer. I must admit I was terrified of them having to talk to him again. By the time we got there, the lady from upstairs was waiting for us. The screamer immediately started telling her that one of HER co-workers had come in earlier and was “fucking around” with the elevator and broke it. He was of the very strong opinion that if they didn’t want to come to work, and were not grateful for their jobs, then they should have stayed at home. He made it very clear that they had no right to come to work and then “fuck up” the elevator!

The lady went back upstairs with my documents and told Daniel, Alex and David to follow her. She explained someone would come down to attend to me. “Remember how much I love you,” I said to him before he went through the door to climb the three flights of stairs again. I did think there was a chance the screamer might have done something to me while I was there, parked like a lemon in my wheelchair!

A few minutes later, a man came through the doors and was being followed by a very elderly woman and another gent. I heard them talking amongst themselves and from what they were saying, I realized he was about to enter into the same conversation we had had with the screamer when we first arrived.

I made a quick decision to extend a random act of kindness and also thought that if one more person asked the screamer about the elevator, he might scream the building down. As soon as the man was within my hearing range, I got his attention and explained the situation to him and suggested he waited for the lady who would be coming down to attend to me in a few minutes. He thanked me and went to explain this to his really old mother and the other gentleman.

As if nothing of the sorts had happened before, the screamer suddenly transformed into the perfect Mr Nice Guy. He came around from behind the counter and pushed his own chair over to the really old lady and offered it to her. He then explained to me that he had put a second call through to the elevator company and that the repairman would hopefully arrive soon.

Another lady from upstairs came down and took my fingerprints and the rest of the family followed behind her very soon. Again, they had been whisked to the front of the line that had started outside the building that then continued through the lobby and up three flights of stairs.

All in all, the inconvenience and abuse had worked in our favor. We were in fact in and out of the building within an hour. Anyone who has been exposed to the lines you stand in when going through an immigration process here, will confirm that we did this in record time.

The lunacy of the whole experience had me a little overwhelmed so I did not pay attention to the kind of details I am usually quite good about noticing. Had I known the names of the two ladies that had assisted us, and the screamer, I actually would have sent them some Tupperware as a thank you!

 
-->